The British Serb Magazine
By George Budimir
November 4, 2015
On Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, The Movement of Serbian Chetniks Ravne Gore, Hamilton Chapter observed their annual Memorial Service (Parastos) for the men and women of Dinara Division who lost their lives during and after WWII. This year’s anniversary is of special significance – the 70th year since the end of World War II.
Every Krajina man is a born soldier, it has been said. When I try to cast my mind to those WWII days I think that at times I felt that those Krajina men were not only brave but indestructible. The thought of fighting for their land, their people, their families made them braver still. There was no lack of courage and valor at Padjene, Golubic, Gracac, Korana and many other battlefields. Crossing the Socha River in May 1945 was the last battle they fought, and their first step into another world. New challenges followed: new country, new customs, new culture, new home, new life. Many came to Canada, some groups settling here in Hamilton area where they played a vital role in social and cultural life in this part of Ontario.
As the years and decades rolled by, as is inevitable, many of our friends passed away. Today, as has been the custom over the past years, we remember and celebrate their remarkable life.
This Commemorative Service – a ribbon of remembrances – provides a somber occasion to take stock of our losses. It can also make a fellow reflective.
Over the years we have lost many fine men and women. With the death of Vojvoda Momcilo Djujic (1907-1999), we were witnessing much more than the passing of a man. In war and peace Vojvoda attained a special place of respect among us.
Over the years, here in Hamilton area we have lost such stalwarts as Tosho Klisuric (1923-1989), Jovo Borovic (1921-2011), Mirko Milunovic (1919-2007), Jovo Djuric (1924-2003), Dusan Sevo (1919-1993), Pavle Jovanovic (1921-1996), Sava Opacic (1902-1984), Djuro Trifunovic (1925-2011), Jovo Andic (1919-2013), and many others – too many to mention here. All are missed.
I miss Tosho’s ever present smile…his heartwarming story of his epic 3,000 km. train ride from Halifax in Nova Scotia… through the endless forests of New Brunswick… the rolling countryside of Quebec… the fields of golden wheat spread along the shores of Lake Ontari, to his final destination – the primal forests of Northern Ontario. And there, a voice of welcome, a man running up and down the station platform shouting: “Any Serbs, any Serbs here?” Tosho’s work life led him to Hamilton where his calm demeanour and steady hand led us through many years and many obstacles. He derived much pleasure helping our youngsters, his ‘extended family’ as he called them. Nearest and equal to him in significance was Jovo Borovic, our church president in its difficult formative years. His drive and can-do attitude was infectious. Indeed, Jovo left us a legacy of leadership.
I particularly remember Mirko, Pajo, Jovo, Pero and an army of others proving their carpentry and masonry skills, or lack of them, in building our Winona Cultural Centre.
I remember Dusan Sevo, a true wartime hero and divisional flag bearer. That flag, wrapped around his waist, made it all the way from Dinara to Winona. And that same flag was draped around his casket as it did for every Chetnik member that passed on to eternity.
I smile in appreciation when I think of Sevo’s truly heroic exploits during the war, and his culinary exploits at his home in Stoney Creek. Nobody, not even his wife Ruza could match the taste of his strudels and his gibanicas. That man was a marvel.
I wince every time I think of Dragan’s first encounter with a Canadian skunk. Early one morning on his way to work Dragan stopped to pet this strange looking dog with a white stripe down its back. Well…the results were not pleasant. That day our Dragan never turned up for his shift work at STELCO.
Many of our men worked at STELCO and DOFASCO, the steel mills of Hamilton. For some this was a mere stepping-stone to starting their own businesses; still others taking on farming. Coincidentally, this being the fruit belt area, several of our men owned and operated fruit farms – grapes, peaches, apricots, pears, apples, etc. Dusan Vincic (1923-2011), the Dalmatian born farmer and father of four operated his fruit farm near Beamsville. Dusan had the patience of Job, and an instinct for correctness that rarely failed him.
A dozen or so kilometers south of Beamsville, on Highway 20, Djuro Trifunovic operated his poultry farm, raising turkeys. Djuro ships his fattened turkeys to market, then he buys young chicks to raise during the next season.
The energetic Todor Trifunovic (1925-2015) operated his labour-intensive tobacco farm in Burford area. Never underestimate the determination of a Serb, I heard him say with a measure of pride.
Less than an hour away at a place called Valence near Puslinich, on highway 97, you will find the spread of Sava Opacic – his choice was raising crops and livestock. Sava’s farm is a place of peace and quiet beauty, a place where the sky feels so big and blue, the air so fresh, although that might only have been because Hamilton’s air is badly polluted by steel mills spewing smoke and grit into the air.
Yes, the pleasures of the outdoors fit closely with a way long enjoyed by Sava and others back in the Old Country. But in farming, the difficulties and pleasures often share the same bed.
These men – tough and tempered by life – are experts at survival.
Drawing on their experiences some have published books or left unpublished manuscripts – most now kept at our Winona library – describing the life ‘that happened somewhere long ago and far away’.
Farmers or steel workers, all these men have elevated themselves to a higher spiritual status through performing many charitable deeds. People of Krajina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, people of Kosovo and Serbia, the refugees, the orphaned children, the widowed mothers – they all have experienced the abiding generosity of these good people. Staying true to yourself, to the core of who you are and what your values are is certainly exemplified by Djuro and Ilinka Trifunovic. This childless couple left one million dollars for the orphaned children in Serbia. Like so many others, Dragan-the-pensioner sent his ‘modest’ donation. I remember how happy he was when notified that his donation of five thousand dollars had safely reached the Serbian orphanage in Bosnia.
All these people are gone from us now. In and around the Hamilton’s cemeteries you’ll find their graves and their tombstones. There are proud names upon them. As time and events test our resolve, the mirror of memory of these good people will hearten and inspire us in our own future endeavours.
If you would like to get in touch with me, Aleksandra, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org